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Cold Lake pet food bank filling bowls

A growing number of local residents are relying on the pet food bank to help keep their furry family members' bowls full.
BNV.2019.07.12.Pet Food Bank
Debbie Marcellus, director of the Alberta Lost Pet Locator (ALPL) and Rescue Society Pet Food Bank Cold Lake division, noted the demand for their services has significantly increased. - Photo by Robynne Henry

A growing number of local residents are relying on the pet food bank to help keep their furry family members' bowls full.

"We have found that our amount going out has tripled in the last few months," explained Debbie Marcellus, director of the Alberta Lost Pet Locator (ALPL) and Rescue Society Pet Food Bank Cold Lake division.

Marcellus has noticed an upswing in the amount of people seeking assistance feeding their four-legged friends in the past couple of months.

"I think the economy has a lot to do with it," she said. "The more we get our name out there, that we even exist, the more people we're going to help because of the economy. I'm thinking a lot of people didn't even know we were here, and we get a lot of clients through word of mouth."

Volunteer Linda Harbarenko agreed.

"It's just getting busier and busier, and harder to keep food on the shelves."

Marcellus said, as of the end of November, they've helped 98 clients this year, which equals roughly 317 pets. That's an increase from 2018, when there were 55 clients and animals assisted, and from 2017, when they reached 45 people to feed 131 pets.

With the high demand, their inventory is quickly dwindling. The Cold Lake location accepts anything that people can spare, and has drop-off locations set up around the city, including Sobeys grocery store and No Frills.

"We even take bags of opened food if your pet decides they don't like it and no one wants it, we will take it."

The pet food bank was started in 2016 after Marcellus was approached by Marie Jennings, president of the ALPL and Rescue Society Food Banks.

"She called me up one day and said, 'what would you think of running a pet food bank?' At the time, I hadn't even thought of anything like that, I didn't even know there was such a thing," Marcellus exclaimed. "I researched it for a couple of hours, and called her back to say I was game."

As long as they have the supplies, they cater to dogs, cats, birds, and hamsters, among other pets.

Marcellus noted they help their clients in any way that they can.

"It's a place for people that are low income, who can't make ends meet and still have pets to feed. They can come and get supplemented with what they need as far as whatever we have in stock. If they need food, clothing, pretty much anything as long as it's been donated, we can give it to them."

Due to the economy, being able to offer pet owners assistance is important for Marcellus.

"They can come here and at least we know their pets are being fed. We know they aren't being abandoned on the streets, put into shelters or in rescues, because they're family," she expressed. "We're not splitting the family up, because a lot of the time those pets are part of the family. Sometimes if they can't feed them, it leaves them with a choice of giving the pet up and this way they don't have to. They can keep the family together, and we can help them through a tough time until they can get back on their feet."

During her two years of volunteering, Harbarenko said people from all walks of life come through the doors.

"We hear some pretty sad stories sometimes. There's people that just have pets abandoned close to their house and they're just trying to find homes for them."

Located at 63109 Range Rd. 415A, the Cold Lake pet food bank wouldn't be a success without the dedication of Marcellus, whose focus is finding ways to replenish the shelves.

"Five stars to Debbie for how hard she works. She really puts her all into this, and... she does a lot of behind the scenes work," expressed Harbarenko.

The pet food bank is open on Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Anyone interested in making a donation or becoming involved can call 780-812-8348.

Robynne Henry, Bonnyville Nouvelle